Thursday, May 7, 2020

The House of Hanover and its relationship with British Royal Family

In the mid-1950s, a much-publicized court case between the British Crown and a German prince established the right of British citizenship to the Protestant descendants of the Electress Sophia of Hanover.

Prince Ernst August of Hanover, who died in December 1987 at the age of 73, said he had sought British nationality because it was his "vested right."

His claim was based on the Sophia Naturalisation Act, which was passed by Parliament in 1705.

In March 1955, a London Chancery Court rejected the Prince's claim stating that the law applied only to Sophia's descendants born during Queen Anne's lifetime; however, eight months later the Court of Appeals ruled in his favor.

This decision was upheld by the House of Lords in 1956.

"It may seem incongruous that a national of a country which has been engaged in the bittered conflict with this country should be entitled to British nationality. But it arises from the passing of a long period of time and the fact that the Act concerned was allowed to remain on the statute books unrepealed," stated Chief Appeal Judge Sir Raymond Evershed in his decision.

Ernst August's lawsuit was based on the fact that he was a direct descendant in the male line from George I, whose mother was the Electress Sophia.  He also was a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria but this line of descent was through Victoria's eldest child, Vicky, who had married into the Prussian royal family. This line of descent was irrelevant to his court case.

The Sophia Naturalisation Act, like its predecessor the Act of Settlement, was passed by Parliament because of events that had begun in 1668 when the future James II (then Duke of York) converted to Roman Catholicism.  Reminded of the bitter religious struggles during the reign of Queen Mary, Parliament would not countenance another Catholic monarch. In August 1688, James's wife, Mary, gave birth to a son, who was baptized as a Catholic; a mere four months later, James II and his family were in exile in France. Parliament, seeking a Protestant monarch, offered the throne to James' elder daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange.

But the Protestant succession was not secure. William and Mary were childless. In 1694 Queen Mary II, at age thirty-two, died of smallpox. For the next eight years, William reigned alone, "unloved by his English subjects." During a ride at Hampton Court in February 1702, William fell, breaking his collarbone after his horse had stumbled into a molehill.  He died on 8 March 1702.  Jacobites -- supporters of the exiled James II and his son -- raised their glasses in a toast to the "Little man in black velvet.  But the throne did not pass to the young Prince of Wales in Paris, but to Queen Mary's younger sister, Anne, Princess George of Denmark.

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Anne was already thirty-seven when she became Queen.  Married to Prince George of Denmark, Anne had given birth to at least 17 children, but none survived infancy or childhood.  This inability to produce a healthy heir made the question of the Protestant succession more paramount. In 1701, Parliament had passed the Act of Settlement, which established a Protestant succession.  If Anne died without surviving issue, the throne would devolve on the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her Protestant descendants.

A second law, the Sophia Naturalisation Act was promulgated four years later.  This new law strengthened the Hanoverian succession, and it also gave citizenship in perpetuity to Sophia's Protestant descendants: "the issue of her body, and all persons lineally descending from her, born or hereafter to be born, be and shall be ...  deemed ... natural subjects of this kingdom."

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Sophia was the 13th of 14 children of Friedrich IV, Elector Palatine of the Rhine (and sometime King of Bohemia), and his wife, Elizabeth, who was King James I's eldest daughter.  Born at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1630, where her family was living in exile, Sophie was married on 30 September 1858 to Ernst August, Elector of Hanover.

The family was not entirely unknown in England.  Sophia's elder brother, Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682), had distinguished himself as a Royalist commander during the Civil War and was created Duke of Cumberland by his uncle, King Charles II.  Rupert, like his sister, was a devout Protestant.  When he died unmarried, Sophia emerged as the strongest Protestant candidate as her other surviving siblings were all Catholic converts.  In December 1680, Sophia's eldest son, Georg, visited London, ostensibly to propose to Princess Anne.

Although it is said that Anne was "infatuated with the Hanoverian prince, the marriage was vetoed by both Charles II and the Duke of York. Prince Rupert continued to press for the marriage until 1682 when Georg married his first cousin, Sophia Dorothea of Celle.

Although Sophia would never visit England, she was enormously proud of her position as heiress presumptive. But she would not become queen.  Sophia died on 8 June 1714, two months before the death of Queen Anne. It was her eldest son, Georg Ludwig, who succeeded Anne on 1 August 1714.

For the next 136 years, Hanover, which did not become a kingdom until 1814, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland were ruled by the same sovereign -- from George I to William IV.  The Personal Union lasted until 18 June 1837 when William IV died. William's niece, Victoria, inherited the British crown, but due to the Salic law, which barred females from succession in Hanover,  Victoria could not become Queen of that country.  The Hanoverian throne was inherited by William's brother, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.

Before leaving for Hanover, the new King Ernst August I took his seat in the House of Lords to swear allegiance to his niece.  He also received assurance that he and his heirs would retain their rights as members of the Royal Family.  But once in Hanover, Ernst August, according to Philip Konigs' book, The Hanoverian Kings and their Homeland,  had little love for England once he had become King. He was a great admirer of Prussia, where he had lived for many years."  As king, he abolished the familiar red coats worn by Hanoverian soldiers even before the establishment of the Personal Union and replaced them with Prussian blue uniforms.

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Although Ernst August never learned to speak or write correct German, he was "a purely German prince."  He visited only once to England in 1843, and returned to Hanover, disillusioned having picked a quarrel with Victoria's husband, Albert, over precedence.

He died in 1851 and was succeeded by his only son, Georg, who was once considered as a possible consort for his cousin, Victoria. Born three days after Victoria, Georg was an amiable, but undistinguished monarch unable to save his kingdom from annexation by Prussia.

"The blind king [the blindness was the result of a childhood accident] should transact business for hours at a time with a strange diplomatist like myself, without any minister to take cognizance," Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck stated shortly after a visit to Hanover in 1853.

Von Bismarck was blissfully aware of Hanover's vulnerability as the northern German kingdom was surrounded on all sides by Prussia.

Friction between the two kingdoms accelerated in 1864 when Prussia and Austria went to war against Denmark over control of two duchies, Schleswig and Holstein.  In November 1865, King Christian IX of Denmark claimed the duchies for Denmark. Most of the German rulers, however, supported the claim of the Duke of Augustenburg.  At the Convention of Gastein that August, Schleswig was given to Prussia, while Austria was awarded Holstein.

 The partition did not have the support of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph or Crown Prince Friedrich of Prussia as both had favored the Duke of Augustenburg.

King Georg V of Hanover made an unwise decision when he sided with Austria in the Diet of the German Confederation.  This decision angered von Bismarck who demanded Hanover's neutrality when Prussia and Austria went to war.  King Georg rejected the ultimatum.  Austria was expelled from the German confederation.  In August 1866, Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, and the duchies of Nassau and Schleswig-Holstein were all annexed by the victorious Prussia.

The annexation forced the Hanover royal family into exile.

"I cannot quite forget the Cradle of my family being swallowed up ....That does not mean that the unification of Germany was not right nor desired by me and dear Papa.  We both earnestly wished for one head, one army, one diplomacy, but dethroning other Princes and taking away their private property and palaces; no, that was and is a grave mistake, " Queen Victoria admonished in a letter to her daughter, Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, who called the invasion of Hanover, "a fait accompli and cannot be changed."

Otto von Bismarck would never forget the King of Hanover's defiance.  Three years after Hanover's incorporation into the Kingdom of Prussia, the Iron Chancellor appropriated the Hanover royal family's private fortune, the Guelph Fund, which had amounted to more than £25 million.  He would use this money to fight opposition to his government.

The Hanover Royal Family was not, however, destitute. Before the war broke out, King Georg had transferred much of his fortune to a bank in England.

Unable to return to Hanover, the royal family settled down to a comfortable exile in Gmunden-am-Traunsee, Austria. The family jewels were smuggled out of Hanover in 1867, "most of them under a lady's petticoat."  The jewels were brought to Austria, then to Germany, and eventually were brought out of the Soviet occupation zone and to Britain in 1945. The Hanover crown jewels remain in a British bank vault.

King Georg V died in Paris in June 1878 and was buried in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on the orders of his cousin, Queen Victoria.  He was survived by his wife, Marie of Saxe-Altenburg, whom he had married in 1843, and three children: Ernst August, who succeeded his father as the de jure sovereign of Hanover; Friederike, and Marie.

The family lost their Hanover home but was still welcomed in Britain. Queen Victoria was present when Princess Friederike married Baron Alfons von Pawel-Rammingen at Windsor Castle in 1880.  Despite Queen Victoria's blessing, the marriage did not have the approval of Friederike's family.

"Of course we should have wished a better marriage in a worldly point of view for one so handsome and distinguished but as she can never give her heart to another, and he is equally devoted to her...."Queen Victoria wrote to her daughter, Victoria.  " she is 32 and old enough to know her own mind I felt it right and kind towards this noble-hearted girl who has suffered so much to consent to it, and I shall therefore tomorrow give my consent in Council to this marriage.  She is a British princess and my subject and wishes to live in England quite as a particulière and I shall give her a small apartment."

Neither Queen Marie of Hanover nor Friederike's siblings were present at the ceremony, which took place at the Private Chapel at Windsor on 24 April.

"Lily [the family's name for Friederike] looked beautiful in her bridal dress -- every inch a Queen she looked; her dress was my gift made in Paris with the Irish lace trimming and the veil the same.  I led her in and gave her away.  Her own mother refusing to give her blessing and her sister and brother casting her off.  She looks on me as her mother...," the Queen told Crown Princess Victoria.

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Friederike's brother, Ernst August was known by his British title, Duke of Cumberland.  He maintained some contact with his British relatives especially after 1878, when he married Princess Thyra of Denmark, whose elder sister, Alexandra, was the Princess of Wales.  Both women were vehemently anti-Prussian.

Prussian antipathy toward the Hanover royal family did not abate.  Prince Ernst August was the next-in-line to the Brunswick duchy, but when Duke Wilhelm of Brunswick died in 1884, von Bismarck vetoed the succession and named Prince Albrecht of Prussia as the Duchy's Regent.  This action brought further silence between the two royal families until 12 May 1912, when the Duke of Cumberland's eldest son, Prince Georg Wilhelm, was killed in an auto accident in Prussia en route to Denmark to attend the funeral of his uncle, King Frederik VIII.

Seizing upon the situation, Kaiser Wilhelm II immediately ordered two of his sons to form a guard of honor around the Prince's bier.  The Kaiser also offered his condolences to the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland.  Prince Max of Baden, who was married to the Cumberlands' eldest daughter, Marie Louise, asked the German Emperor if the young Prince Ernst August of Hanover could come to Berlin and offer his parents' personal thanks.

A meeting was arranged between the Prince and the German Imperial Family. The first minutes were understandably tense, but the ice was soon broken by the Kaiser's 19-year-old daughter, Victoria Luise, who asked Ernst August if he would like to look at her thoroughbred horses.

"It was a remarkable caprice of fortune that the eldest son of the Hanoverian pretender to the Throne should die on Brandenburg soil in Prussia, Princess Victoria Luise of Prussia wrote in her memoirs.

It was love at first sight for the pretty, blonde Prussian princess. Her parents were displeased when she revealed to them her feelings for Ernst August.  Prince Max of Baden came to the rescue.  He discreetly broached the subject of a marriage between the two royal houses with the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland.  It would be a major diplomatic achievement if he could bring the two families together.

Victoria Luise was very much in love, but she was unaware of Ernst August's feelings for her. She took into her confidence her sister-in-law, Crown Princess Cecilie of Prussia, whose brother, Duke Friedrich Franz IV of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was married to Ernst August's sister, Alexandra.  Cecilie was delighted to help. Accompanied by Victoria Luise's brother, Adalbert, Cecilie met Prince Ernst August in Partenkirchen.  Prince Adalbert arranged for his sister to receive a secret phone call from Prince Ernst August, as well as a photograph.

In January 1913, the couple's engagement was announced. Although the Duke of Cumberland renounced his claim to the Brunswick duchy, he would give up his claim to the Hanover throne (which had been one of the original impediments to the marriage).  Prince Ernst August would enter the Prussian army and swear allegiance to the Kaiser, and not make an effort to reclaim Hanover.

Victoria Luise and Ernst August were married on 24 May 1913 in Berlin. It was the last major royal occasion before the outbreak of World War I where the three royal cousins, King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Tsar Nicholas II, would all attend.  Although they did not know it at the time, Victoria Luise's wedding was the last time the three cousins would see each other.

On 24 October 1913, Ernst August succeeded as Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, but his reign lasted for only four years. In November 1918, along with other German sovereigns, the Duke abdicated; unlike his father-in-law, who was forced into exile in the Netherlands, Ernst August and his family did not leave Germany.

Ernst August lost his duchy, and he and his family were denied their British titles. In 1915, the Duke of Cumberland was struck off the Order of the Garter. Two years later. the Titles Deprivation Act, stripped the Dukes of Cumberland and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha of their British peerages because they were enemies of the British King, having supported or fought for Germany in the first world war.

Ernst August and Victoria Luise had five children: Ernst August, Georg Wilhelm, Christian, Welf-Heinrich, and Friederike. The family continued to think of themselves as members of the British royal family.

This belief was largely engineered by the then head of the house, the Duke of Brunswick, who, on August 31, 1931, issued a non-binding decree that defined the status of members of the House of Hanover. The Duke decreed that the members of his family would continue to use the title Royal Prince or Princess of Great Britain and Ireland. His decision was largely based on his family's direct descent in the male line from George III. This continued use of British titles is a matter of pretense only and is not officially recognized by the Court of St. James. 

What also helped the Duke of Brunswick’s case was another Letters Patent.  On June 17, 1914, King George V issued a Letters Patent that gave the title of Prince or Princess of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with the style of Highness to the children of the Duke and Duchess of Brunswick.   George V and the Duke were first cousins.  At the time of Letters Patent, the Duke and Duchess were the parents of a son, Ernst August, who had been born in March 1914 and was styled as HRH Prince Ernst August of Hanover.  The official publication of the Letters Patent in the London Gazette was on July 17, 1914, three weeks after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.   This Letters Patent remains extant as George V’s 1917 Letters Patent that limited the HRH and title of Prince or Princess to the children of the sovereign and the grandchildren of the Sovereign in the male line did not exclude the Hanovers.  The 1914 Letters Patent was especially limited to the Duke of Brunswick’s children.

The Titles Deprivation, which was passed by Parliament in 1917, also had no effect on the 1914 Letters Patent.  The Duke of Brunswick’s father, the Duke of Cumberland, was stripped of his British peerages as he was a German combatant.  The Titles Deprivation did allow for the restoration of the peerage, but only to an heir who had not fought for Germany in the first world war.
Thus, the Duke of Brunswick was also excluded, although his eldest son, Ernst August, who was an infant when the war broke out, was eligible to petition the British parliament after the death of his father in 1953. 

both images Marlene A Eilers Koenig Collection

But members of the Hanover royal family continued to maintain a filial relationship with the British Crown.  In 1937, when Princess Friederike became engaged to Crown Prince Paul of Greece, she asked King George VI for permission to marry as did her older brother, Prince Ernst August, when he married Princess Ortrud of Schleswig-Holstein in 1951.

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Ernst August and Ortrud also received a congratulatory telegram from George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who addressed the newlyweds by their Hanoverian and British titles. Several thousand people lined the streets of Hanover to cheer the newlyweds when they emerged from the church.  Prince Ernst August and Princess Ortrud, whose champagne-colored, long-sleeved wedding gown had the Hanoverian coat-of-arms embroidered on it in silver, red, and gold, were driven to Herrenhausen Castle for a reception for more than 800 guests. A wedding supper was held at Schloss Marienburg, near Hanover, which until the late 1950s, was the family's primary home. (Today, the present head of the family maintains an apartment in the schloss.

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Ernst August and Ortrud had six children: Marie (a goddaughter of the late Queen Mary), Ernst August, Ludwig-Rudolf, Alexandra, Olga, and Heinrich.
In 1953, the Duke of Brunswick died, and he was succeeded by his eldest son, Prince Ernst August, who assumed the title Prince of Hanover. (It should be pointed out that since 1919 German titles, such as prince or duke, are only a part of one's surname. Royal titles were abolished following the establishment of the German republic).

Ernst August was also the father of a natural son, Christian Freiherr von Humboldt-Dachroeden, who was born in December 1943.   He was very much in love with Christian's mother, Baroness Maria Anna von Humboldt-Dachroeden, whose marriage to Ernst August's first cousin, Prince Hubertus of Prussia, had ended in divorce after 17 months of marriage.   The Duke and Duchess of Brunswick were opposed to the marriage as they considered Maria Anna unsuitable as a future wife of the head of the house of Hannover.

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  "Enkel von Kaiser Bill wird Englander" (Grandson of Kaiser Bill becomes an Englishman) headlined the local Hanover newspaper following the British Court of Appeals ruling in Ernst August's favor in November 1955.

It was also determined that Prince Ernst August could petition the British Parliament for the reinstatement of the Cumberland ducal title, and take his seat in the House of Lords. But he could not have taken his seat, stated the decision if he had "borne arms against King George V." Prince Ernst August was only four years old in 1918.  The only weapon he could have used was a "pop gun."

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 During the Second World War, Prince Ernst August served with the 4th Panzer Army, but in 1944, he was forced to resign his commission under a personal order from Adolf Hitler.

Although the late Duke of Brunswick and his, Ernst August, had a formal, distant relationship with the British royal family, the Duke of Edinburgh's late sister,  Sophie, was married to Ernst August's brother, Georg Wilhelm. They had three children, the youngest, Princess Frederica, was once mooted by the media as a possible bride for the Prince of Wales.

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When the Prince of Hanover died in December 1987, Queen Elizabeth II sent Prince Edward to represent her at the funeral.

The relationship between the late Prince's children and their British kinsmen is distant and formal and largely confined to asking the British sovereign for permission to marry, as required by the Royal Marriages Act.  In 1981, the young Ernst August married Swiss-born architect Chantal Hochuli in the chapel at Schloss Marienburg.  Six years later, Prince Ludwig-Rudolf and Austrian Countess Isabelle von Thurn und Valsassina-Como-Vercelli were married at her family's home, Schloss Bleiburg.  Both marriages were approved by Queen Elizabeth II, although no British royals attended either wedding. (Prince Ernst August was married one month after the Prince of Wales was wed to Lady Diana Spencer).

The present Prince of Hanover was born in 1954 and is the father of two sons, Ernst August, born in 1983, and Christian, who was born two years later. The Prince was briefly a student at a boarding school in Surrey before he attended the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. He completed his education at the University of Guelph in Canada.

Prince Ernst August and his wife, Chantal, were divorced in 1998 on the grounds of adultery with an unnamed woman.  The woman in question, however, was Princess Caroline of Monaco, twice-married (divorced and widowed), the eldest child of Prince Rainier III and the late American actress Grace Kelly, with whom Ernst August had been involved since 1996.

Although the tabloid media has insisted that Princess Grace had considered the Lutheran Ernst August for her daughter as far back as the 1970s, the story is not true. It is unlikely that the devout Roman Catholic Princess Grace would have considered a Protestant for her daughter, even if the Prince was worth about $160 million, and would become the head of his family, a de jure sovereign.  "I really don't think it is true.  But there is no point in denying a totally harmless story.  I think if she [Princess Grace] had seen me as a young child, she would have said, 'Never marry that young man. He is a most unsuitable person, ‘" Ernst August said in an interview.

After a much-publicized relationship that eventually ended Ernst August's marriage, he and Princess Caroline were married in a civil ceremony in Monaco in January 1999.  It was a private family occasion.  Seven months later, the new Princess of Hanover gave birth to a daughter, Alexandra.       
Although Prince Ernst August was free to remarry in a Lutheran ceremony, he could not marry Princess Caroline in a Roman Catholic church.  Her first marriage had been annulled but she could not marry Ernst August in a Roman Catholic, because of his divorce.

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The late Prince of Hanover never petitioned Parliament to be declared as Duke of Cumberland.  In 1997,  his son. Prince Ernst August released a statement denying press reports that he had petitioned Queen Elizabeth II for the restoration of his British titles.

It was at the Hannovers' Austrian home, Königinvilla in Gmunden, where Princess Isabelle of Hanover died of a drug overdose in November 1988. Several hours later, her husband Prince Ludwig Rudolf, after finding her lifeless body, committed suicide.

In a final, desperate conversation with his elder brother, Prince Ludwig-Rudolf asked Ernst August to look after his eight-month-old son, Otto-Heinrich.  In 1990, an Austrian court awarded custody of the little Prince to Isabelle's parents, Count and Countess Ariprand von Thurn und Valsassina-Como-Vercelli.

 Prince Ernst August's youngest brother, Heinrich, a computer programmer, was sued for child support by Berlin chanteuse, Désirée Nick, who gave birth to his son, Oscar, in 1997.  He does not have contact with his eldest child. 

In 1999, Heinrich married Thyra von Westernhagen, and they have three children: Albert, Eugenia, and Julius.  They were married on the same day as Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones.  Heinrich’s uncle, Georg Wilhelm, who married Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark (the duke of Edinburgh’s sister) chose to attend the British wedding as he represented his wife, who was Edward’s godmother.

Queen Victoria's assurances aside, members of the House of Hanover are, legally speaking, no longer members of the British Royal Family.  Since 1947, members of the British Royal Family have been styled as Prince or Princess of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  However, Ernst August and his family continue to use the older style: Prince or Princess of Great Britain and Ireland, despite the fact, that the last British sovereign in their direct line of descent was George III.  The 1914 Letters Patent was issued specifically for the Duke of Brunswick’s children and not their male-line descendants. The use of the older royal title continues the Hanover Royal Family's unique link with the British Crown.

Fast forward to 2020.   Prince Ernst August and Princess Caroline have been separated for more than a decade, but are not divorced.  The Prince has suffered from substance abuse problems for many years and is largely estranged from his sons, especially his eldest son, Prince Ernst August.  In 2004, the younger Ernst August took over the German properties, including Schloss Marienburg, Schloss Calenburg, and the Princely House in the Herrenhausen Gardens in Hanover.  He also acquired forestry near Blankenburg, which his father had repurchased after German reunification in 1990.

The younger Ernst August took over the family businesses, which is 2012, would also include the family properties in Austria.  His father was removed from his position as head of the Duke of Cumberland Foundation, which is registered in Liechtenstein.  It has been reported that Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, a foundation trustee, initiated the decision to remove the father and put his son in charge.
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In 2017, Ernst August decided to take legal action against his son as he announced he wanted to revoke the turnover of the properties and to regain his position at the Duke of Cumberland Foundation.  The younger Ernst August and his legal team would not budge, even after his father, a form of blackmail, would not recognize his forthcoming marriage to Ekaterina Malysheva, which took place in July 2017.

Ernst August senior did not attend the wedding nor was he present at the baptism of his two grandchildren, Princess Elisabeth (2018) and Prince Welf August (2019.)

The younger Prince Ernst August and his family now reside in the Fürstenhaus in Herrenhausen, which was previously a museum.  Prince Christian and his wife, Alessandra, a Peruvian-born designer, are based in Madrid. They are expecting twins in the summer.

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